Tag Archives: University

Does the academic left use rational arguments or intimidation in debates?

Muddling Towards Maturity has found yet another interesting post for us. This post is by David French, who writes at the National Review.

The full post:

Late yesterday afternoon, I happened to catch a short-but-insightful lecture by one of my favorite Christian apologists, Ravi Zacharias. In the midst of an interesting discussion about the allure of Eastern mysticism in Western culture, he made a fascinating statement (I’m paraphrasing): In the battle of ideas, stigma always beats dogma. In other words, through stigmatization, one can defeat a set of ideas or principles without ever “winning” an argument on the merits.

I was instantly reminded of not just my own experiences in secular higher education, but also the experiences I see and hear every day while defending the rights of students and professors. Why convince when you can browbeat? Why dialogue when you can read entire philosophies out of polite society? That’s not to say there aren’t intense debates on matters of public policy, but all too often we see social conservatism not so much engaged as assaulted.

I fear that we like to comfort ourselves by saying something like, “kids see through this heavy-handed nonsense.” This is simply wishful thinking. Most people don’t like to be labeled as “bigots,” and they often assume that such overwhelming ideological consensus is the product of considered thought. If “everyone” seems to believe something (especially when “everyone” includes all of your professors and other academic authorities), then mustn’t it be true?

Here’s a question for conservative parents and teachers: Are we really equipping young people to face the challenges of college if we teach them arguments? Or should we instead be primarily preparing them to face scorn and hate with inner toughness and good cheer? After all, when a professor calls you a “fascist bastard” for defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, what is he doing if not trying to defeat dogma with stigma?

Below, I’ll give my thoughts on this.

My thoughts on the academic left

First of all, from a practical point of view, never take anything except math, engineering or computer science at the university, unless you are really passionate about some other field. Everything else is so politicized that you may be forced to assent to things you do not believe in order to pass. There is not a shred of open-mindedness or tolerance for other viewpoints in today’s leftist campuses. It’s just fascism all the way.

Secondly, young conservatives and Christians need to get used to staying calm while ideas that they don’t agree with are shouted in their faced in the typical vulgar, abusive manner that secular leftists seem to find so fetching these days. The best way to do that is to watch as many debates as possible in advance and get used to sitting still and disagreeing while someone else explains their point of view.

Thirdly, other points of view are only annoying if you have lousy reasons for your own point of view. If you put the time in learning your arguments and evidence, and the best that could be argued against you from the other side, then there should be no problem. Just repeat what Jay Richards said after his debate with atheistic journalist Christopher Hitchens: “a sneer is not an argument, an insult is not evidence”. Richards has a Ph.D from Princeton University… Hitchens does not.

Fourthly, we need to start making it common knowledge that atheism does not ground morality and that is a worldview that is responsible for at least a hundred million deaths in the last 100 years alone. That point must be made over and over – when someone claims to be an atheist it should be immediately put to them that meaningful morality is not rationally grounded by their worldview. Don’t let them make any moral judgments without challenging them on the foundations of morality.

Example of what students can expect from left-wing fascists on campus

Don Feder has a list of campus violence incidents against conservative speakers in a OneNewsNow article.

Here are a couple of the incidents in his list:

When she attempted to speak at Penn State in 1999, black conservative Star Parker was forced from the stage. Parker described the experience as “very frightening” and said she “feared for my life.” Parker’s hatefulness was her contention that single mothers are better off with jobs than on welfare, based on her own experience.

At Emory University in 2006, David Horowitz gave a lecture as part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. To show their outrage at the comparison of radical Islam to fascism, protestors behaved like fascists. A mob of over 300, from groups like Amnesty International, Veterans for Peace, and Students for Justice in Palestine, waved signs and shouted, “Does George Bush respect anybody’s rights?” and “Why don’t you talk about fascism in America?” mixed with chants of “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, David Horowitz go away!” (They can’t reason. But they sure can rhyme.) “Are we going to talk about who killed JFK?” one protestor demanded. (The Zionist-CIA-Karl Rove-AIG Executives cabal?). Horowitz (who had to be escorted off stage) observed, “This is exactly what the fascists did in Germany in the 1930s.” True, but at least they weren’t hypocrites claiming they were motivated by concern for minority rights.

This is the tolerant, open-minded left. The same tolerant left that brought secular-socialist mass-murdering regimes into power in Russia, Italy and Germany. And they kill millions in many ways. You will never find right-wing advocates of free market capitalism and human rights treating their opponents like this. We don’t take positions based solely on emotions, so there is no need for us to use violence to win an argument.

American university gender gap: 57% female, 43% male

Story here in the Gainesville Sun.(H/T Why Boys Fail)

They focus mostly on the gender gaps in Florida universities, but I think these schools reflect the national situation. Boys are falling behind girls in schools, and in life.

Excerpt:

Women make up 57 percent of college enrollment nationally, according to the most recent federal statistics. In Florida, five of the 11 state universities have female enrollments topping 60 percent.

…Graduation rates support the thought. More than 63 percent of women graduate from UF in four years, compared with 42 percent of men.

I agree with this statement from Thomas Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education:

He calls for changing the way in which boys are educated. Boys learn through a more active, hands-on learning style than girls, he said. Mischief-making boys are treated as criminals or sent to special education classes, he said.

“Boys aren’t allowed to be boys today,” he said. “They’re treated as defective girls.”

Does anyone care enough to ask men why they are not motivated? Are there proper schools, teachers and incentives in place to prod men towards responsible manhood?

Are things beginning to turn around in Alberta?

Political Map of Canada
Political Map of Canada

I blogged before about the California school district that is indoctrinating 5-year olds with homosexual propaganda in kindergarten. Well, Canada had a similar problem in the province of British Columbia, where the entire curriculum was going to be designed by gay activists. Now, you might think that the Canadians would be a lot more leftist on such issues, you’d be wrong.

Alberta has a bill in the works to give rights to parents to opt out of programs like this.

Check out this story from the Globe and Mail. (H/T My friend Andrew)

Bill 44, which proposes amendments to Alberta’s Human Rights, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Act, contains two significant changes. The first adds sexual orientation to proscribed grounds of discrimination. This would bring Alberta’s human rights legislation into conformity with a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that “read in” sexual orientation after it had been deliberately omitted three times by the Legislative Assembly in Edmonton. The amendment has been widely praised.

Section 11 of the new act is more controversial. It requires that parents be notified whenever instructional materials are taught dealing “explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation.” If parents object in writing, the student can be excused from class.

According to Rob Anderson, Conservative MLA from Airdrie-Chestermere, a riding just north of Calgary, Bill 44 “is one of the most positive and meaningful advances for human rights that this province and this country has seen for many years.” Specifically, he explained, the “parental rights clause” enshrines Article 26 (3) of the United Nations universal declaration of human rights: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” Premier Ed Stelmach added that his government “supports a very, very fundamental right and that is parental rights with respect to education.”

This article was written by a political science professor at the University of Calgary, which is the school where their prime minister Stephen Harper got both his degrees in economics. They are known for their conservative views. They even have a special name: the “Calgary School” of economics, just like you might talk about the “Chicago School” and the “Austrian School”. Awesome!

Here’s a letter to the editor from a University of Lethbridge (Alberta) professor that I found in the National Post, (H/T Blazing Cat Fur)

Bill 44 is a response to a B. C. Human Rights Tribunal decision mandating two gay activists to commandeer the Ministry of Education in that province to impose a “social justice” course into the curriculum. Parents’ rights, never mind those of local school boards, were overridden.

The B. C. example and Alberta’s Bill 44 indicate how HRCs have poisoned politics in those two provinces.

Now everyone, not just Christian preachers, has to worry about getting dragged before an HRC. A former chairman of the Calgary School Board once proclaimed the state “owns” children who must be liberated from the supposedly claustrophobic viewpoints of their parents. This goes to show how little this debate has to do with promoting critical thinking or cosmopolitanism, as the Post’s article suggests.

If there is an upside to this, perhaps now there will be sufficient support across the political spectrum to dismantle the HRCs.

Go Canada, eh?

Has the university become intolerant and close-minded?

This article by prestigious McGill University ethicist Margaret Somerville is worth reading. (H/T Commenter ECM) She is one of the leading defenders of traditional marriage in Canada. She is a moderate social conservative. Here is a brief summary of her case against same-sex marriage. Her short article in the journal Academic Matters is about the intolerance of the leftist university elites against their opponents.

Here is the abstract:

In this edited excerpt from her Research and Society Lecture to the 2008 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, ethicist Margaret Somerville argues that universities are becoming forums of intolerance. Keeping the university as an intellectually open and respectful place is critical, she says, to finding the “shared ethics” essential to maintaining healthy, pluralistic democracies.

And here is an excerpt in which she discusses the impact of moral relativism on moral disagreements:

That is where political correctness enters the picture. It excludes politically incorrect values from the “all values are equal” stable. The intense moral relativists will tolerate all values except those they deem to be politically incorrect—which just happen to be the ones that conflict with their values.

Political correctness operates by shutting down non-politically correct people’s freedom of speech. Anyone who challenges the politically correct stance is, thereby, automatically labeled as intolerant, a bigot, or hatemonger. The substance of their arguments against a politically correct stance is not addressed; rather people labeled as politically incorrect are, themselves, attacked as being intolerant and hateful simply for making those arguments. This derogatorily -label-the-person-and-dismiss-them-on-the-basis-of-that-label approach is intentionally used as a strategy to suppress strong arguments against any politically correct stance and, also, to avoid dealing with the substance of these arguments.

It is important to understand the strategy employed: speaking against same-sex marriage, for example, is not characterized as speech; rather, it is characterized as a discriminatory act against homosexuals and, therefore, a breach of human rights or even a hate crime. Consequently, it is argued that protections of freedom of speech do not apply.

She illustrates with some examples:

We need to look at what “pure” moral relativism and intense tolerance, as modified by political correctness, mean in practice. So let ‘s look at the suppression of pro-life groups and pro-life speech on Canadian university campuses. Whatever one’s views on abortion, we should all be worried about such developments. Pro-choice students are trying to stop pro-life students from participating in the collective conversation on abortion that should take place. In fact, they don’t want any conversation, alleging that to question whether we should have any law on abortion is, in itself, unacceptable.

In some instances some people are going even further: they want to force physicians to act against their conscience under threat of being in breach of human rights or subject to professional disciplinary procedures for refusing to do so. The Ontario Human Rights Commission recently advised the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to this effect.

Political correctness is being used to try to impose certain views and even actions that breach rights to freedom of conscience; to shut down free speech; and to contravene academic freedom. I do not need to emphasize the dangers of this in universities. The most fundamental precept on which a university is founded is openness to ideas and knowledge from all sources.

She spends the rest of the paper arguing for a system of “shared ethics” that grounds open, respectful debate between disagreeing parties. I hope this catches on before secular-left moves from censorship to outright violence, against those who would dare to disagree with them.

A short bio of Margaret Somerville

Margaret Somerville is Samuel Gale Professor in the Faculty of Law and a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University and is the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law. In 2004, she received the UNESCO Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science and in 2006 delivered the prestigious Massey Lectures.

The relationship between science, faith and academic freedom

I blogged recently about atheist philosophers Thomas Nagel and Bradley Monton, informed atheists, who both support the idea that intelligent design could potentially be researched using ordinary scientific methods. I thought it was interesting especially in the case of Nagel, who has this famous quote about his reasons for adopting atheism:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.
(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)

The thing is, Thomas Nagel has written a paper supporting ID as science, and now I’ve learned that he is rejecting Darwinism as a full explanation of human origins. (H/T Denyse O’Leary’s related post at the Post-Darwinist). Nagel contrasts the idea that natural selection is responsible for our mental capacity, or whether some other explanation is needed.

Nagel writes:

I see no reason to believe that the truth lies in the first alternative. The only reason so many people believe it is that advanced intellectual capacities clearly exist, and this is the only available candidate for a Darwinian explanation of their existence. So it all rests on the assumption that every noteworthy characteristic of human beings, or of any other organism, must have a Darwinian explanation. But what is the reason to believe this? Even if natural selection explains all adaptive evolution, there may be developments in the history of species that are not specifically adaptive and can’t be explained in terms of natural selection. Why not take the development of the human intellect as a probable counterexample to the law that natural selection explains everything, instead of forcing it under the law with improbable speculations unsupported by evidence? We have here one of those powerful reductionist dogmas which seem to be part of the intellectual atmosphere we breath.

It’s interesting that Nagel is breaking from the pack, because my post about A. N. Wilson’s return to faith highlighted the peer-pressure that atheists feel with regards to the need to project intelligence to their peers. It’s almost as they feel the need prove themselves as better than other people, perhaps to make up for some past rejection that gave them a deep sense of being unworthy.

Wilson said:

If I bumped into Richard Dawkins (an old colleague from Oxford days) or had dinner in Washington with Christopher Hitchens (as I did either on that trip to interview Billy Graham or another), I did not have to feel out on a limb. Hitchens was excited to greet a new convert to his non-creed and put me through a catechism before uncorking some stupendous claret. “So – absolutely no God?” “Nope,” I was able to say with Moonie-zeal. “No future life, nothing ‘out there’?” “No,” I obediently replied. At last! I could join in the creed shared by so many (most?) of my intelligent contemporaries in the western world – that men and women are purely material beings (whatever that is supposed to mean), that “this is all there is” (ditto), that God, Jesus and religion are a load of baloney: and worse than that, the cause of much (no, come on, let yourself go), most (why stint yourself – go for it, man), all the trouble in the world, from Jerusalem to Belfast, from Washington to Islamabad.

Anyway, Denyse O’Leary also talks about some research done by Jeffrey Schwartz on her blog the Mindful Hack. I saw Schwartz present this research before in a live debate with Michael Shermer, another atheist I like somewhat. (I own, and have watched dozens of debates and hundreds of academic lectures – and I sponsor them, too! I love civil, fact-based disagreements!)

Denyse cites from a forthcoming paper of hers, as follows:

UCLA psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, a practitioner of Buddhist mindfulness, saw OCD as a good candidate for a non- pharmaceutical—essentially non-materialist—approach to treatment….

Schwartz used neuroscience techniques to identify the cause of the disorder. Specifically, the cause is most likely a defect in the neural circuitry connecting the orbitofrontal cortex, cingulate gyrus, and basal ganglia, from which panic and compulsion are generated. When this “worry circuit” is working properly, we worry about genuine risks and feel the urge to reduce them. But, Schwartz found, when that modulation is faulty, as it is when OCD acts up, the error detector can be overactivated. It becomes locked into a pattern of repetitive firing. The firing triggers an overpowering feeling that something is wrong, accompanied by compulsive attempts to somehow make it right.

He then developed a four-step program (Relabel, Reattribute, Reassign, and Revalue) to help patients identify and reassign OCD thoughts, until they felt that they were diminishing in severity. Schwartz was not simply getting patients to change their opinions, but to change their brains. Subsequent brain imaging showed that the change in focus of attention substituted a useful neural circuit for a useless one. For example, it substituted “go work in the garden” for “wash hands seven more times.” By the time the neuronal traffic from the many different activities associated with gardening began to exceed the traffic from washing the hands, the patient could control the disorder without drugs. The mind was changing the brain.

Schwartz called this “mental effort” in the debate, and he used the treatment successfully on people like Leonardo DiCaprio.

The issue of mind as a non-material cause is an area of specialty for Denyse. She recently wrote a book on it for Harper-Collins called “The Spiritual Brain”. I bought 7 copies of that book and gave them to 6 of my friends for their Christmas presents. (One was for me!) Check it out. I hate (but use) philosophical arguments for substance dualism. Her book provides lots of hard scientific evidence that I prefer to use instead.

Atheism, science and free speech

As Denyse O’Leary notes in her post on Colliding Universes, Christian researchers in the sciences have to jump through hoops to keep their jobs and get tenure, in an establishment dominated by activist atheists. She links to this story in Science, regarding a Christian professor who is brilliant, but who has to watch his step in secular-leftist-dominated academia.

Szilágyi sees his religious faith and his research efforts as two complementary aspects of his life. Within the scientific environment, “I have some options where I can express my faith,” Szilágyi says. He directly referred to God both in the acknowledgements of his master’s and doctoral dissertations and while receiving his awards. He runs a Bible-study group for young adults, and together with a friend he founded a Christian scientific group.

But although Szilágyi’s views often lie far outside the scientific mainstream, he expresses those views only off-campus and in his personal time. For him, “the debate over evolution, design, creation, supernatural intelligence, etc., is not a scientific question in the first place but the collision of worldviews, the confrontation of materialism and idealism,” he says. He takes the Bible literally, but when he lectures on the subject–outside of work–he presents what he calls “the options” and indicates which one “to me … seems to be more probable.” But he insists that it is up to “everybody to make his or her own decision.”

“As a Christian who works in the field of science, I find it quite important to deal with the relation of Christianity and science,” Szilágyi says. But “I know that it is a minefield in today’s scientific life and can be quite dangerous for one’s scientific career. … Therefore, I do these activities absolutely separately from my university work. … I am very cautious and careful that whenever I am talking [about these issues] I do not represent my university.

“My belief is very important for my career because this is the first thing that gives me my motivations so that I could work hard and I could achieve the best I can,” Szilágyi says.

Denyse, who sees the battlefield better than anyone I know, comments:

It is sad when talented people must grovel and cringe just to keep their jobs. The thing is, in the end, that never works.

“Theistic evolution” is just a way of adjusting to a world run by atheists.

Practical questions like “Does the world show evidence of design” are scientific if the answer appears to be no, but unscientific if it appears to be yes.

Denyse also wrote about this comment on the Post-Darwinist, which emerged during the recent Texas School Board hearings.

“If our students do not feel the freedom to simply raise their hand and ask a question in science class, then we are no longer living in the United States of America.”

Common sense, combined with the pressure of at least 14,000 constituent communications in favor of allowing students to discuss all sides of science theories, finally prevailed.

You may also remember the case of Guillermo Gonzalez, who, despite outperforming virtually everyone in his department, was denied tenure thanks to a crusade by an activist atheist professor of religious studies, Hector Avalos. Persecution of outspoken Christians by secularists goes on all the time in academia. If you come out as a Christian, the secularists will be offended, and then you have to suffer the consequences.

And don’t forget, as public Christianity declines in the face of persecution by secularists, so has the right to free speech. The Democrats have recently tabled bills to enact hate crime laws and to imprison bloggers who are critical of the government.